Claiming Our Rights Through Nonviolent Movement-Building

November 11, 2010
Challenges of Change Symposium

Carolyn Long, Mahnaz Afkhami & Marian
Wright Edelman at "Challenges of Change"
Photos on Flickr | Videos on YouTube

Requirements for successful activism:

  • Strong spiritual roots so activists can share stories, comfort and support each other;
  • A few mentors for affirmation and encouragement when the going is hard; and
  • Non-violence training for creating personal discipline, courage, and the conviction that action is right and just and even worth dying for.


-- Marian Wright Edelman

Challenges of Change: Religion, Secularism & Rights
Panel 4: Chaired by Carolyn Long, Speakers Pregs Govender (video), Marian Wright Edelman, and Mahnaz Afkhami

Carolyn Long, director of Global Partnerships at InterAction, observed that there is no magic to the creation of a movement: "It is hard work, it is challenging, it is dangerous, and it never ends."

In a videotaped presentation, Pregs Govender, deputy chair of the South African Human Rights Commission and former member of Parliament, noted that domestic violence, inequality and repression still exist in her country. In fighting apartheid, "We didn’t engage the patriarchy into which it was embedded," she said.

Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of the Children’s Defense Fund and recipient in 2000 of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, traced the history of the U.S. civil rights movement: a multi-decade strategy of targeted lawsuits "by poor folks with poor lawyers" to undermine legal apartheid.

The suits challenged official segregation in schools, in towns, in libraries, at water fountains, bus stations, lunch counters… wherever possible. The 1954 Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education overturned the "separate but equal" fiction that had justified racial apartheid.

But better U.S. laws have not created real racial equality: schools are re-segregating; 80 percent of black and Hispanic youngsters cannot read or compute at grade level; and a black boy born in 2001 has a one-in-three chance of being jailed during his lifetime: "the cradle-to-prison pipeline."

The U.S. civil rights movement inspired the women’s rights movement in Iran, said Mahnaz Afkhami, founder and president of Women's Learning Partnership. Leaders of the "One Million Signatures" campaign to reform discriminatory laws were persecuted and jailed for long terms on trumped-up charges, and exiled. Those leaders are now scattered, but the movement has still spread throughout Iran’s population and is awaiting an opening to resurface.

The campaign used kitchen table discussions, door-to-door canvassing, community-level debates, the Internet, and social-media messaging to mobilize women’s right supporters. It argued that religion was a key part of every person, like home and family. As such, it is different for each person, and so can include women’s rights.

Rather than boycott the farcical 2009 election, activists used it to demonstrate by the millions, affirm their nonviolent demands and be visible with their signs and green clothing. The chance for real change will come again.

 

Photos on Flickr | Videos on YouTube

 




"Challenges of Change" Panel 4
Carolyn Long & Pregs Govender

"Challenges of Change" Panel 4
Marian Wright Edelman

"Challenges of Change" Panel 4
Marian Wright Edelman

 




"Challenges of Change" Panel 4
Mahnaz Afkhami

"Challenges of Change" Panel 4
Mahnaz Afkhami

"Challenges of Change" Panel 4
Q & A

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